Opening Day's Forgotten Man

There’s a petition to make it a national holiday. Yet, amidst the fanfare of baseball’s opening day, this year’s celebration, like many years prior, goes without the mention of one man, one legend of the game. On the eve of Opening Day 2014, this legend said:

"I can’t complain about my situation because I’m the one that screwed up. If somebody is gracious enough to give me a second chance, I won’t need a third."

-- Pete Rose, March 30, 2014

Peter Edward Rose was born on April 14, 1941, eight months prior to the bombs exploding in the then U.S. territory of Hawaii at Pearl Harbor. Fittingly, Rose was born 4,500 miles away from Pearl Harbor in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a fresh-faced kid just shy of his 22nd birthday, he was a hometown boy turned good when he began his major league baseball career with the Reds on opening day of the 1963 season. At 37, he was a daily headline as his 44 game hits streak fueled the Reds in the summer of 1978. At 45, he hit a single off of San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Greg Minton in August of 1986, his last season as a player, and the last hit of his career, and retired as a hometown legend.

His 44 game hits streak is 3rd longest all-time. He amassed 4,256 career hits. No other major leaguer has accumulated even 4,200 hits, and only one other player, Ty Cobb, has over 4,000 (4,189). He’s only the third player/manager in major league history in the past 50 years. He owns over 25 major league records and awards.

In their 133 years of existence, the Cincinnati Reds list Rose as one of their all-time greats. Even the Philadelphia Phillies, who employed Rose for only five seasons between the years of 1979 and 1983, named him to their Centennial Team in 1983. Rose was also named to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999.

Unfortunately, these accolades and enshrinements pale in comparison to what he is most noted for, his placement on baseball’s infamous "ineligible list" in 1989.

According to Baseball’s Almanac, a total of eighteen players were banned for life from baseball under commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis between the years 1920 and 1943. Most were for conspiring with gamblers to throw games; the most notable of these were the eight men from the Chicago White Sox, who conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. The players of this era did not place individual bets with bookies, but conspired with high money gamblers, who fixed games by buying players of teams they bet against, and in turn, these players would go out and purposely do things on the field to try and lose games. Before Landis’ efforts to rid the league of dishonest players, the league suffered. As the common fan could no longer trust that the product on the field was legitimate.

In the 71-years following Landis’ death in 1943, the following five commissioners of baseball banned a number of ballplayers for various infractions. All were reinstated. Pete is only player since 1943 to wear the "lifetime ban."

None of the players reinstated since 1943 were banned for purposely throwing ballgames as had occurred in 1919. Nor were any banned for gambling on MLB games as Pete was.

In the past 71 years, few examples outside of Pete’s exist of players being banned in connection with gambling. Willie Mays was required to quit his position as a coach with the New York Mets in October 1979 when he accepted a position with Bally’s Park Place Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, appearing in commercials for the casino as a promotional ambassador. Mickey Mantle was required to step down as a spring training batting instructor with the New York Yankees in February 1983 when he accepted a similar position with the Claridge Casino Hotel, also in Atlantic City.

Mantle was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1974. Mays followed Mantle to the Hall in August of 1979, when he received 409 of a possible 432 Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes, just two months prior of his own ban by commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The plaques of both Mantle and Mays remained in the hall throughout the entire length of their ban, and both former players were reinstated in 1985 by then commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

The exact example to Pete’s comes from the National Football League, and the discipline for that infraction was handed down in 1963.

Paul Hornung and Alex Karras of the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions respectively, were investigated by the NFL for betting on NFL games, some of which they were directly involved in, between the years 1959 to 1961. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle handed down an "indefinite suspension" for both players in April 1963 with no review of the case until after the 1963 season. Eleven months later, in March 1964, after extensive interviews between Rozelle and the suspended players, both were reinstated for the 1964 season. Hornung continued his brilliant career, retired in 1967, and was enshrined the NFL’s HOF in Canton, OH, in 1986. Karras, too, had a gone on to a stellar career, retiring in 1970, and although he has yet to be elected to Canton, he remains eligible.

Present day baseball is still struggling to attain a cleaner image following the recent "steroid era," which stretched for a 20-year period from the late 1980s to the late 2000s. During this time, baseball was marred with tainted records, accusations, Senate investigations, the admission from 16 ballplayers of their use of illegal performance enhancing drugs during their playing career, and the suspicion that many more players used PEDs but had yet to be caught. Senate investigations produced the famed Mitchell Report, which lists a total of 129 ballplayers who had admitted to using PEDs, or were suspected of using PEDs, or implicated by others as using PEDs. In the wake of this, MLB took another hit similar to the 1920s, as the common fan could not trust that the product on the field was legitimate.

In spite of this, commissioner Bud Selig found no need to award lifetime bans. In fact, he could not within the rules of baseball. A progression system exists. Fifty games for a violation, 100 games for a second, and finally, a lifetime ban for a third.

No one has yet to reach a third violation, and serious HOF candidates such as current Los Angeles Dodger’s pitching coach Mark McGwire, former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens, all who have all been involved in Senate hearings pertaining to steroid use, have since retired without reaching a third violation. Thus, all are still eligible, pending votes from the BWAA, for baseball’s HOF.

So this journey into the past takes us back to the current day Pete Rose. No such progression system applies to his situation.

Rose was found in violation of rule 21(d)(2), in which he bet money on games he had duty to perform in. The penalty is placement on the permanently ineligible list. According to baseball’s rules, members of the permanently ineligible list will not play in any major or minor league games. Period. That’s it. There is no mention of post career honors. There is no mention of HOF induction.

Under rule 16(c), Pete could apply for reinstatement after being on the ineligible list for one year. The commissioner of baseball then has the authority to approve reinstatement or deny the request. Rose applied for reinstatement in 1992 and again in 1997. Both applications were denied.

In 1991, one year prior to Rose being eligible to appear on HOF ballots, the HOF Committee – in a decision not based on the official rules of baseball – made an official statement saying that members of baseball’s permanently ineligible list will not be listed on the ballot for the Hall. It is obvious that this decision was deliberately directed at Pete, for he has been the only card-carrying member of that club since 1989.

At one time, there was a need for rule 21(d)(2). Gamblers, not bookies, were in control of MLB by fixing games. They would buy players to deliberately tank games. The gamblers made money because the team they bet against, usually a heavy favorite, lost because key players on their roster were bought off. Thus, the integrity of the game was lost, and rule 21(d)(2) was rightfully put in place, with the harsh penalty of a lifetime ban, in order to stop the practice.

But nobody bought Pete. Pete didn’t purposely tank games as a player or manager because gamblers bought him. He was simply placing bets with a bookie on games. The bookie does not bet on games, only places odds on them. He or she is neutral in the process. Also, bookies don’t do business exclusively with one or a small group of people, he or she takes bets from many people, which is the key to them making money whether the teams that Pete or anybody else bet on won or lost.

As far as the accusations of Pete’s bets influencing his decision making in games he personally was involved in, he stated he never bet against the Reds. I believe him. There has never been proof that Pete made questionable calls as a player or manager that would indicate he was being influenced by gambling. Plus, if he never bet against the Reds, wouldn’t he try to do everything in his power to make sure the Reds don’t lose? And if that’s true, isn’t that the job of any manager or player?

Don’t get me wrong, I think if players or managers place bets on their teams, or on their sport in general, it is unethical. However, I do not equate placing bets with bookies to being bought by gamblers, and do not think that merely placing bets is worthy of the lifetime ban.

I personally get a bad feeling that baseball will wait to elect Rose posthumously, possibly with future big-leaguer Pete Rose, Jr. accepting his father’s induction plaque. Using a baseball term, it would be bush league. However, it would be a way for baseball’s establishment to continue its cold shoulder toward Rose, possibly for waiting until 2004 to admit he did indeed bet on baseball after years of denial, yet get one of the league’s greats into the HOF.

Pete’s career lasted 24 years. His banishment from the game has now lasted 25 years. Pete’s confession is now ten years old. He will be celebrating his 73rd birthday this month. Commissioner Bud Selig, National Baseball Hall of Fame Committee, do the right thing. End this long drawn out dilemma with Pete Rose. His merits as a ballplayer on the field of play make him most deserving of being enshrined in the HOF. Don’t continue to be influenced by the ghost of Bart Giammati, or the term "lifetime" ban. Truth is, nobody knows what Giammati would think of the situation now, and baseball’s rules allow for an appeal and reversal of that lifetime ban. Have the courage to reinstate and elect one of your sports all-time greats to the HOF in 2015.

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